While I’ve been in the audio design for video games business over a decade now, I know that there’s a heck of a lot more for me to learn. What was difficult at first was learning how to compose for a wide variety of different cultures and time periods. I’ve been asked to compose music for video games in every genre I’ve spoke about this year, and at first, I was very reluctant to break out of my initial niche genre: classic RPG scores. I say it in just about every entry, but the best way I learned was to do my research and listen to as many different soundtracks as possible. There’s a lot, to be sure! But after a while, I started to notice a lot of these genre-tracks had similarities in tempo, instruments, and musicality. Breaking these down into bite size chunks, exploring and composing until it started to feel and sound right was the next step.
When it comes to managing a game’s audio design, first, I determine what style would best fit by pouring over the game docs and speaking to lead designs and artists. Typically, I’ve found that a multitude of audio directions are possible, so it’s best to have a clear path forward from the beginning. Look for target audience, which will include the target age, region, platform, and other pertinent data. I like to ask if there's similar games or media similar to what the design is going for, and take a listen to see what players are expecting, and to look out for opportunities to distinguish your audio. There's a world of excellent music out there, so go check it out!
Game audio design has its fair share of challenges, and a learning curve that seems to never end, but the rewards are in doing so. I can safely say I can compose for any game (which I definitely could not do at the beginning of my career!), but so can you. All it takes is a little courage, a lot of listening, and the desire to be a well-rounded game audio composer.
Harry Mack is an audio designer with more than 10 years industry experience, composing video game music and sound effects for over thirty titles. Examples of his latest work and samples are available at www.harrymack.com.